The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

As is traditionally depicted, a certain group of seven scholar/musician/poets wishing to escape the intrigues, corruption and stifling atmosphere of court life during the politically fraught Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history habitually gathered in the obscurity of a bamboo grove near the house of Xi Kang in Shanyang (now in Henan province). Here they enjoyed practicing their works, and enjoying the simple, rustic life, always with too much Chinese alcoholic beverage (sometimes referred to as “wine”). This was contrasted with the theoretically and Confucian certified honorable and joyful duty of serving ones country; but, which at this time would have actually meant living (at least briefly) a life of attempting to perform governmental service amid the deadly dangerous political quagmires of the seats of power and changes of government. Rather than attempt to stay loyal to Wei through the rise of Jin by their active, personal involvement, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove instead stressed the enjoyment of ale, personal freedom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature — together with political avoidance.

The complexity of homosexual relationships inevitably led to the creation of poetic works immortalizing conflicting sentiments. Ruan Ji is usually mentioned first among the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. The other sages were Xi Kang his lover, Shan Tao, Liu Ling, Ruan Xian, Xiang Xiu, Wang Rong. They created an image of wise men enjoying life rather uninhibitedly, realizing the old dream of a Daoist concord of free men who are gifted with hidden wisdom “to be together, not being together” and “act jointly, not acting jointly”. The wine goblet, which became a symbol of being accustomed to “contemplating many wonders” pertaining to Daoism, united them even more than any principles. Ruan Ji talked in his works about “remote” things but about the “Bamboo Groove” he remained silent, although the group became the main focus of his searches for free and frank friendship.  Ruan Ji was one of the most famous poets to apply his brush to a homosexual theme. This work, one of several dealing with homosexuality from the “Jade Terrace,” a collection of love poetry, beautifully illustrates the stock imagery on which men of his time could draw in conceptualizing and describing love for another man.

In days of old there were many blossom boys —
An Ling and Long Yang.
Young peach and plum blossoms,
Dazzling with glorious brightness.
Joyful as nine springtimes;
Pliant as if bowed by autumn frost.
Roving glances gave rise to beautiful seductions;
Speech and laughter expelled fragrance.
Hand in hand they shared love’s rapture,
Sharing coverlcts and bedclothes.

Couples of birds in flight,
Paired wings soaring.
Cinnabar and green pigments record a vow:
“I’ll never forget you for all eternity. “

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

One response to “The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

  • Will

    The poem is similar in feeling to some of the great Islamic love poems about young male lovers. Islamic poems of the second half of the first millennium and for some time thereafter are interesting in their celebration of homosexual love and wine, both strictly forbidden in the Qoran. Yet these poems and their authors are still revered throughout Islam.

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